Monday, July 30, 2012

Buccaneers: Oops, I missed one...


While I was in Savannah, I had all the amenities available in large cities: Air conditioning, WiFi, indoor plumbing, etc. The one amenity I didn't have was time. We were busy from 8 am until 11 pm every day, and I barely had enough time to sleep, let alone blog! I'll post a travelogue later today, once I get my thoughts on the trip in order.

I missed one Buccaneer post, but I've decided to skip right on ahead to Today's Scheduled Topic:

Social Media.

We all love the social media. For me, personally, it's the best way to keep up on all the doings of the publishing world. I've learned more about writing and publishing from following interesting writers, agents, and publishers on Twitter, Blogger, WordPress, Tumblr, and every other conceivable medium we use to connect with one another, than I have from any other source. I have no idea how new authors learned how to get their foot in the door twenty years ago. We are lucky to live in an era where communication is instant and global.

On the other hand, some days it seems like I spend more time on Twitter, reading blogs, and gawking at humorous snippets online than writing. Oopsie. It's addictive, and that can be dangerous. The lure of an easy distraction is a click away.

Still, if you've ever asked a question on Twitter and received half a dozen helpful responses within a few minutes, you know it can be a useful research tool, too. The trick is finding the balance.

And now, a gratuitous picture of Tybee Island Lighthouse, because I think it's the "artiest" of all the pictures I took on vacation:

And one disapproving fish, because he's cute:


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Buccaneers: Favorite Books and Authors

The second post of Week Three of the Buccaneer Blogfest is pre-programmed to walk the plank at 9 am on Wednesday. Long before 9 am on Wednesday, I will be entombed on a southbound bus. This way, at least I'll have a post to, er, post...

To the Books!

Today's post is all about our favorite books and authors. My brain interpreted "favorite" as meaning "those books I read over and over again like a super geek fangirl. Without further ado, here are the most reread books in my library:

1. Dracula. I'm a total dork for the original Bram Stoker. And yes, I've also read all the other progressively weirder things Mr. Stoker wrote. Lair of the White Wyrm, anyone?

2. The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings/Silmarillion/Unfinished Tales. These are reread ever December.

3. Harry Potter. I reread them every July (except for this July! I haven't had time! I promise to start them again when I get back from Savannah on Sunday.)

4. The Decameron: Boccaccio's compilation of 100 stories told by a group of friends fleeing the Plague in Florence. The stories were written in 1350, and shed a huge, mostly bawdy light on life in the Middle Ages. There was apparently NOTHING uptight about people in that era. Nothing was out of bounds, off limits, or considered too dirty to talk about in public.

The premise of the work is that ten friends leave Florence to avoid succumbing to the Plague. They hide out at a villa in the countryside, and decide to tell stories each day to entertain themselves. Every day, each person must tell one story (except on Saturday, which is devoted to chores, and Sunday, which is a day of rest). Every day for two weeks, a different person is put in charge of the day's storytelling. Sometimes they pick a category the story must fall into. All ten friends relate a different story each day. Some of them are weird, some are raunchy, some are poignant. It's amazing how nearly 700 years later, the stories are still relevant. Wowie!

That's it for my compulsive rereading list. There are other authors whose books I never miss. I wait on pins and needles for Jim Butcher's Dresden Files novels. I read just about anything by Stephen King (next up from Mr. King, the Dark Tower series which Helper Monkey is finishing up at the moment).

And I shouldn't leave off one of my favorites, but one that I don't reread as often as the others: Sherlock Holmes stories. I love these. The original stories are all wonderful, but I also enjoy some of the modern stories told by authors other than Conan Doyle.

I think that's about it for this post, since it's now a full hour later than I planned to be up tonight!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A little CONTEST! With Prizes! Travel-related amnesia.

Today is my last day at home until Sunday night. At least this time I'll be staying at a proper hotel, with a real bed, an en suite bathroom, and air conditioning. The air conditioning is a huge plus, since the hotel is in Savannah, Georgia. In July. I can feel the melting coming on already.

I originally thought to bring my typical wardrobe of Goth-Meets-Southern-Belle-Commando, but after seeing the extent of our walking tours (basically 9 am to 9 pm every day, all around town), I've reduced myself to Tourist Clothing, including the loud, inappropriate socks. It's just too hot to be parading around town in petticoats, even knee-length varieties. I did get a new pair of sneakers, so at least my feet will be happy. Happier than they would have been in my Disney World-tested Fluevog heels. I swear, I wore these for a week, and never felt pain. At DISNEY WORLD, PEOPLE! But I'm not sure how well-paved Savannah is, and the Vogs just don't perform in off-road environments. So, new Chucks, it is.

Fluevogs of Happiness, pretty much the most comfortable shoes ever. I have them in pink, too.
Old Chucks, done in by working at baseball games, and New Chucks, so bright and shiny they practically glow.
Screw it. I'm bringing the Vogs, too.

The other nice thing about this trip compared to our usual Girl Scout trips, we're taking chartered buses, which sounds horrible at first, but then I realized I wouldn't have to drive, or haul all our luggage in my truck like I do when we camp. I can bring a proper suitcase, and I don't have to pack a tent or a sleeping bag, or any other camp stuff! I have SPACE IN MY LUGGAGE FOR ALL THE THINGS!

Ooh, another nice thing. Savannah is a city. Cities have cell phone service! Our hotel has free WiFi! I won't be cut off from the beautiful internets! In fact, after 12 hours hiking around town in the sweltering heat with 85 other people, I'll be grateful to escape into the internets for a little while.

I'm taking my computer with me. Even after bringing it to camp and then never even opening it up (not even once!), I've deluded myself into thinking I might actually get some editing done while I'm there. I'm a night owl, and I don't sleep much. I have to have something to do between 11 pm (lights out, noises off), and 2 am when I normally start to get sleepy. We'll see how that goes. Probably better than camp did. At least with WiFi, I'll have the internet to keep me company if I can't get to the editing...

The only problem I'm having is that Friday is Lulu's real birthday. We celebrated her fake birthday today, so we wouldn't deprive the Helper Monkey of cake. Friday I need to find a bakery in Savannah where I can get a cake to feed about 30 people. It's only fair she gets to have cake on her actual birthday, too! If anyone knows a good bakery in Savannah, let me know. Otherwise, I'll probably ask for directions to the nearest grocery store and buy cupcakes. :)

Now I have to get packing. There's only 13 1/2 hours left before I have to wake up. I hate that. Remember, I'm a night owl. I am definitely not a morning person. I don't think I'll like 4:30 am as an alarm clock setting.

There we go. I think that's everything for this post. My head contains a whirling tornado of to-do lists and anxiety. I'm finally coming to terms with my basic problem with travel: I always forget one thing. It might be small and easy to replace (toothbrush), or strange (I once forgot to pack a single pair of underwear for the Helper Monkey. I blame him for not setting them out with his clothes). Nevertheless, I usually forget something. It used to cause panic, but I've started seeing the fun in discovering what vital thing I left at home.

Let's play a game! Everyone take a guess. What will be the one thing I absolutely need on this trip that I will leave at home? Put your answer down in the comment section (U.S. and Canada only), and I'll buy the lucky winner a souvenir from Savannah.

For Bonus Points, why don't you also vote on what the souvenir should be? Hint, it should be something small, easily shipped, and rather generic. Suggesting I buy a shot glass or a snow globe is on the right track. Suggesting I buy a life-sized stuffed tiger wearing a pink t-shirt from Fort Jackson is a little over the top, no?

Just to be fair, I won't read these comments until AFTER I leave for Savannah, and therefore won't be able to dash around stuffing numerous forgotten items into my suitcase, obviating the need for this contest in the first place! :) I'll hold the drawing Sunday night when I get home, so you have until then to enter.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Buccaneers: On the Reading List

Ahoy again, mateys! This week's Blogfest is all about reading! This is a big deal to most writers. We love to read, or we wouldn't bother creating books to spread our love of the printed (or electronic) word to others. That being said, like a lot of other writers, I'm hopelessly backlogged on the list of books I'd like to read. There are just too many to keep up with!

The first part of today's post is supposed to mention the last three books we've read. That's an easier question to answer than the second part, which is to discuss our to-be-read list. Entering that list on a single post has the potential to crash Blogger, so I think I'll stick to the first part of the question for now...

Recent Reads:

The book I'm reading currently is Gail Carriger's Timeless. I pre-ordered this book, and started reading it the day it was released, back in March. Life conspired against me, and I had to put it aside. It got buried under a pile of blankets, and I only found it when I finally put the blankets away in the closet, a few weeks ago. I restarted it from the beginning, and read most of it while I was camping last week. I swore I'd finish it this week. Wish me luck. Side note: I adore the Parasol Protectorate series. I devoured the first four books, and this is the final installment in the series. I've decided that my procrastination on finishing it is a desire to keep the series alive. Either that, or I'm just being lazy.

Before Timeless, I read Purgatory Chasm by Steve Ulfelder. It's a great mystery story, with a believable, messy protagonist. I've been trying to get my mitts on the sequel, The Whole Lie, but I've sworn not to buy any more books until I finish the books in my physical TBR pile before ordering more...

I also recently read Unraveling, by Liz Norris. It's an imaginative, fast-paced race to stop the whole world from falling apart. I can't wait for the sequel!

I know I've read other things between reading these three, but I can't remember the order I read them in, and these were the first three that popped into my head. I guess that says something about them?

As for the TBR pile/list:

I have a lot of series finale type books to read, including the last book in the Kane Chronicles (The Serpent's Shadow) and the last of Michael Scott's Nicholas Flammel series (The Enchantress).

I also have a ton of books that I would like to re-read. I usually go through and take a week in July to reread Harry Potter, but I haven't had time this summer. I've been wanting to reread the Decameron by Boccaccio for a while. I absolutely love that book. If you've never read it, you must. It's free for Kindle. It's definitely beyond copyright protection, since it was written in 1350. I'll talk about it more in my next post...

And all this is in addition to the reading I do for crit partners and as a beta reader, and re-reading my own work either for editing or to make sure I still like what I wrote. If only there were another two hours in a day. I might finally make a dent in the list....

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Brain, 1; Forgetting the name of that song, 0

A few weeks ago, the Helper Monkey was watching something on tv. I was happily sitting in my comfy chair writing, or editing, or reading. Whatever. What I was doing doesn't really matter. The point is, I heard a song I recognized. It was a bit of classical music that I knew I'd played at some point in my life, and for the life of me I couldn't remember what it was called. I blanked.

I SHOULD have known what it was. I mean, I could PLAY it for you, but I couldn't NAME it. At least I was sure it was composed by Bach. The arrangement used in the background of the tv show was a string quintet (two violins, viola, cello, and guitar). I was pretty damn sure I did not play that particular arrangement (since I've never played with a classical guitarist), but other than that, I could not place the music.

I put my computer down, stomped over to the sofa, and hit the record button on the remote. Now at least I'd be able to listen to the song on constant repeat until I remembered what it was.

Fast forward a few weeks. Between summer camps, editing, and catching up on everything else, I'd completely forgotten about the song. Last night I was clearing off the TiVo (read: watching a lot of tv). At the bottom of the list of recorded shows was the show with That Song. I watched it again. I listed REALLY CAREFULLY. And then I dove head-first into google searches.

Long story short: I FOUND THE DAMNED SONG!

And I'm humiliated to admit the title now. It's only one of Bach's most famous snippets of music. And I played it when I was in high school. The Third Brandenburg Concerto's final movement.

Victory is MINE!

In other news:  Lulu comes home from Girls Rock camp today. I'm leaving for the airport in just a bit. I can't wait to see her! We've only got two full days at home before we're off again, but I'll be glad enough for two days of normality before we go.

You'd think I'd be glad to have a quiet house for a week, but no. Every year when she goes, I fall under the delusion that I'll get so much done while she's away. I'll clean out the closets in the guest room! I'll reorganize the garage! I'll write fifty thousand words in a week! I WILL DO ALL THE THINGS!

What do I get done every year? A lot of moping. To be fair, I worked at five baseball games this week, so that took up a lot of my free time. Then I got sick. Then it was Helper Monkey's day off, and we had a nice morning out together. Then I spent most of last night on the insane musical quest, and watching lots of tv. At least the TiVo's empty now. One thing accomplished.

 And now, TO THE AIRPORT! Wheeee!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

I write like...A schizophrenic amalgamation of every writer ever on Earth, apparently

The fabulous Feaky Snucker tweeted an interesting little website last night, and I've wasted more than enough time playing with it today. I'm going to put my thoughts on it in order here, so I can go back to doing what I'm supposed to be doing today. Since I still haven't set pen to paper on my new story idea, I really shouldn't be playing with silly websites until I put a measurable dent in the truly important things on my to do list.

The website in question is called I Write Like. You enter a few paragraphs from your work in progress, your blog, or anything you've written that's at least a few dozen sentences long. The site analyzes your writing and tells you which famous author the style most represents. I thought this sounded like an interesting experiment.

I picked a scene toward the end of Running Down the Dragon. It was the climax of the main storyline, and I figured it was as dramatic a scene as I could have picked. What writer would the work most resemble? Douglas Adams, apparently.

That was appropriately cool and impressive. But, lo, I was not satisfied. I went a page or so back in the manuscript, and picked out the four or five paragraphs before the Douglas Adams scene. Who did that most represent, writing-wise? None other than the Bard himself, Willie Shakespeare. Eyebrow raised. This website is crazy, right?

At that point, I was addicted. I went back several chapters, and found a wonderful scene that I completely changed around during the last edit. I rewrote the scene, and it went from a dispassionate description of a room to an emotional sequence of memories drawn from several objects in that room. I love how the scene works on several levels now, and I love that I Write Like thinks the new scene most resembles the work of Oscar Wilde. I absolutely adore his writing. Lady Windermere's Fan, anyone?

Before I went so far as to self-diagnose my writing with hopeless multiple personality disorder, I switched over to analyzing a series of my blog posts, instead. Since blog posts are by nature shorter than novels, and intended to be stand-alone vignettes rather than cohesive narrative throughout the entire history of the blog, I figured it was safer to play with them. I entered the last half dozen or so posts into the analyzer.

Some of my results:

David Foster Wallace, William Gibson, and H.P. Lovecraft. CTHULHU!!!

Strangely, the Lovecraftian blog entry was this one, about character shopping at the MVA. Maybe the MVA is the secret lair of The Thing That Should Not Be? It would explain a lot, actually...

Just for fun, I ran this very blog post you are reading RIGHT NOW through the analyzer. Can you guess what writer this post most represents? Scroll down to the bottom for the incredible result. At least take a few guesses before you spoil the surprise, though...

An incongruous photo of dry ice evaporating in the heat on Thursday. I thought it looked cool, and I needed a bumper photo to keep y'all from cheaty-looking down to the answer right away.

So what have I learned from this bizarre little trip through crazy-land? I write like a lot of people all smooshed together. And you know what? I think we ALL write like a lot of people all smooshed together. It's the nature of life. We're like sponges. We absorb everything we read, every nuance of every book, every blog, every tweet, even. Just as we are what we eat, our writing is a conglomerate of our life experiences. I'd like to think that rather than chunks of my work being seen through the filter of dozens of incredible authors, taken as a whole, my work is simply mine. It's a unique recipe of all the ingredients I've filled my imagination with over the years. Every writer has their own recipe, and it changes and evolves constantly as we throw new ingredients into the pot.

Is there a particular author that your work seems to favor, though? Give it a try. You never know. You might be the next Jane Austen, or Ray Bradbury, or Mark Twain. You might even be all three. If you play with this tool, let me know what IWL thinks of your writing.

So, what writer does this post most resemble, according to I Write Like?

Cory Doctorow.

I'll take it. Oddly enough, he's the only famous author the site has attributed my writing style to more than once. Hmmm...

Friday, July 20, 2012

Buccaneer Blogfest: The Big Idea Mine

For today's Buccaneer post, we're supposed to confess the location of our Super Secret Idea Mines talk about how we came up with the ideas for our novels. I know I've already written a little about the inspiration that started me writing in the first place. Heck, it's how I came up with the name for this blog!

For those who haven't read my entire backlog of blog entries, here's a brief sum-up:

I had a recurring nightmare for years. And I mean like twenty years. Every once in a while, it would come back for a visit, haunt my nightmares for a while, and then disappear for a few months at a time. When I had a particularly horrid bout with the nightmares last summer, in desperation I decided to write the whole dream down. I figured it might help work through whatever issues kept my brain from rehashing the nightmare every night. If it didn't help with the nightmares, at least it would explain my increasingly sleep-deprived state to my husband.

For some reason, when I wrote the dream out, the characters who terrified me the most became the heroes of the story on paper. I saw the entire nightmare inside-out, and the things that scared me suddenly had a story of their own. And they weren't scary anymore. They became my friends. I gave them a purpose, and they rewarded me by shielding me from the crazy nightmares.

After a few days of writing, I realized I had an awful lot of story to go over from a single nightmare. Since the act of writing stopped the dreams, I kept writing. I wrote two epic fantasy novels with those characters.

When I was about to plunge into the plotted and planned third novel with them, I realized that what I had written so far was not terribly commercially viable. In reality, those two novels taught me how to write something commercially viable (I hope!). Instead of continuing a series I didn't think would ever sell, I figured there was no harm in trying to write something that might sell.

I have no idea where Thalia and her crew came from. One day, I envisioned a lone woman walking through a park in Boston after dark, and fighting off an embarrassingly poor attempt at a robbery by spinning around and walking on like nothing happened. Thalia was born.

While I keep writing for myself, because if I stop the nightmares might come back, I'd like to think that twenty years of horrible nightmares might finally bring some happiness to others!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Buccaneers: Meet my Main Character! Thalia Drake

Ahoy, Mateys! Today's Buccaneer installment is an interview with a character from your WIP. You're a writer and you STILL haven't joined us for the blogfest?! Then you must go HERE or HERE and sign up! Or ye can walk the plank!

I thought I'd introduce you to my main character, Thalia Drake. I asked her to share a little bit about her life.

Thalia may very well be the last dragon on Earth. She's hidden her true identity to blend in with the rest of the shapeshifters. Dragons are able to become any animal they choose, and Thalia has spent the last six hundred years living as a werewolf. If anyone knew she was really a dragon, the shifters could lose everything.

The U.S. Government's Non-Human Resources Department employs shifters in special branches of the military, as well as other areas of the government where the work is considered too dangerous or otherwise beyond the capabilities of humans.  Since they're all but impossible to kill, shifters gladly trade their expertise for a chance to build a home here. They've been chased out of nearly every other nation they've tried to settle in, and life in the States has been pretty good in comparison.

Even so, there's still a few Americans who think the humans would be better off without so many non-humans in high-ranking military and federal positions. Some of those people are willing to go to some pretty extreme lengths to make their feelings known.

First of all, I have to ask the obvious. What's it like being a dragon?

Well, it's all I know how to be, so I don't really have anything to compare it to. I mean, I know what it's like to shift to all kinds of other animals, but I've been able to do that since birth. I can't imagine not having that ability. It's been the key to my survival. I wouldn't be here today if I couldn't fake being a wolf so well.

Since I've been in hiding, I haven't had many occasions to shift into dragon form. It's hard to avoid being spotted when you're two stories tall and can fly. It gets harder every day to find enough open space, where you're not likely to encounter hikers with cell phone cameras, spy satellites, or even cameras set up in the wilderness to study animal behavior. You wouldn't believe some of the near misses I've had. The last thing I need is for someone to post some video footage of a huge dragon on YouTube.

I can imagine that's probably the hardest part of keeping your identity a secret. How do you deal with the frustration of not being able to assume dragon form?

The best way to get a little revenge on the camera-happy outdoorsman is to shift into a local animal, and then have a little fun with them. It works best on lone hikers. I had one guy convinced he was delusional because he kept seeing a jackrabbit dancing past his campfire late one night. Every time he'd whip the camera out, I sat there like a timid bunny. The next morning he spent fifteen minutes convincing himself it was a dream. By the time he broke camp and moved on, he'd stopped talking to himself.

It sounds like you're a bit of a prankster.

When you're closing in on your 1,900th birthday, you have to keep finding new ways to entertain yourself. Sometimes my friends and I entertain each other with little competitions using our elemental magic, sometimes just inventing new games to play is the entertainment in itself. We can get a little silly, especially when we've been out on a long deployment to an isolated area.

Sounds like a challenge. What can you tell us about shifter magic? How does that work?

Most of our magic is tied to one of the four classical elements: earth, air, water, or fire. Some of us specialize in different areas. For example, I'm not too good with air and water, but all dragons have talents with earth and fire. I can create caverns in solid rock, or search below the ground for something specific, like ground penetrating radar. Some of my abilities with fire are a little unusual. I can do the whole dragon-breathing-fire thing, but I can also sense and manipulate electrical currents. I'm not sure if there is another shifter who can use their fire talents that way.

Some of my friends with better water control are fantastic swimmers, or they can create water out of nothing. Air users often have the ability to move air around, but a few can even magnify sound and change the way air behaves completely. I don't completely understand it, since I can't do it myself, but a friend of mine can use sound to knock planes out of the sky and disrupt radio transmissions. Useful skills for someone who spends most of her time working for the CIA.

Do you ever work for the CIA, too? What kinds of things do shifters do for the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, etc.?

I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.

...Right...Moving on, then...

I'm joking. You know that, right? We fill in on assignments where a human simply could not go. It's handy to be able to send a bird in to spy on terrorists. Or a fox. Or whatever local animal won't be noticed. It's the best disguise possible.

Since shifters are also immune to things like bullets and bombs, there's very little risk we could be hurt or killed, even if we were discovered by the enemy. We can safely take risks that a human wouldn't be able to.

Thanks for answering. I was worried there, for a second.

Don't worry. I'm tame. I'm just messing with you.

And on that note, I think that's enough for today... Thanks for answering a few questions!

If you have any questions for Thalia, please leave them below. I'll do my best to get her to answer them without making any threats, whether humorous or authentic.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Parental Nerves Run Amok, or Sunday Afternoon

The house is very quiet tonight. And dark. The little person who normally runs around leaving lights and TVs on in every room is away this week. I loaded her on an airplane all by herself yesterday afternoon and sent her off to my sister's house for a week. It was a tiny airplane. She loved it.

Tiny plane.
We almost didn't make it to the airport. I'd spent the last week thinking her flight was at 2:35. Yesterday morning around 9 am, I printed out her boarding pass. I'm glad I decided to do it when I did, instead of waiting for the last possible minute to take care of it. Her flight was at 12:22.

I spent the next 15 minutes panicking. Luckily I made her pack the night before, and she only had to throw a few last minute items into her backpack. We both got dressed (I think the TSA would have frowned on us arriving in our pajamas), and bolted for the airport.

The last half a dozen or so times I've flown, I've used National Airport. This was the first time I've had to use Dulles since they installed the underground trains between terminals. First, I want to say how much I miss the old jetway busses that raised and lowered to the height of the plane. They were repurposed as shuttles between the main terminal and the newer terminals, but now they've been almost entirely replaced by the new train. Which is probably the least efficient airport transport system I've ever seen. Ever.

Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with the train itself, but the security lines that bottlenecked us twice before we could join the labyrinth of escalators and hallways beyond the screening point leaves a lot to be desired. There are about a dozen different lines you're randomly assigned to, and then the lines are randomly shut down  from time to time.

Once you finally make it through the boarding pass/ID confirmation point, you're shuffled into one of half a dozen other randomly moving lines to go through screening. Luckily, the kid didn't have to go through the backscatter machine, so neither did I. Those things creep me out.

There were so many escalators beyond this point that they could speed them all up and call it an amusement park. I haven't been up and down that much since I rode the Tower of Terror at Disney last summer. I considered going back and taking a picture of each one, but I try not to act suspicious at airports.

I tried to take this picture in the least suspicious manner possible.

Just so you know I have nothing against the trains, I rode in the front car on my return journey to the main terminal. Nice view.

After the kid was safely airborne, I had to get to work at the Keys game. It was so difficult to work when the kid was sending me messages on my phone, and I'm not technically allowed to have my phone while I'm working. So sue me. I cheated yesterday.

She's having a great time at Girls Rock Camp this week. Her band formed today. They assign girls to bands based on their musical tastes and preferences, so hopefully she'll have a great experience. In case I haven't mentioned it before, she's the drummer.

They did team building activities today, including writing an advertizing jingle for Orange Aliens. She promised to write the lyrics down for me, and assured me it's hilarious. I'll keep you updated as they write their actual song this week. They get to perform in a real concert on Saturday. Fingers crossed for her.

Now that all that's out of the way, I used the unusual quietude around her today to finish the edits from the Magnificent Crit Partner of Magnificence. I can't think of anything else I want to change. Now I'm trying to convince myself that Running Down the Dragon is ready to meet the world. I'd hate to send it out in public only to find out its skirt was tucked into the back of its pantyhose or something.

I think I'll wait until the thought of showing it to agents and editors no longer causes respiratory failure. Yeah. That might happen. Or maybe I'll just wait one more day.

Buccaneers: The First Paragraph (Dum dum duuuum!)

It is now week two of the Blogfest! I still haven't managed to get either of my interviews from last week done, but I'm still perfectly willing to conduct them (Call me! Or email me! or something!). It's not too late to sign up for the 'Fest right here.

Today's assignment is to post the first paragraph of our WIP. To be fair, I've stopped considering this novel as "in progress," since I just finished a comprehensive and exhaustive revision courtesy of the Divine and Thoughtful input of The Supreme Crit Partner. I feel a little bit like a cheater posting it here as a WIP, but I'm going to do it anyway. So there.

The first paragraph of Running Down the Dragon:

Idiots. I have no idea why they kept trying, but I guess everyone needs a hobby. For the third time in as many weeks, someone cornered me in the Common. I guess it's a sign. I should change my route. It probably won't stop the idiots, but I do get sick of fighting them off.

So there you have it. Like I said, it's more or less as finished as any novel ever gets (which means it's done until the next person reads it and makes additional fantastic suggestions for improvement. Would you like to be that person? Right now, I'm looking for Exalted and Beloved Beta Readers. If you enjoy Adult Urban Fantasy, and would like to offer an opinion for me, I'd be grateful to anyone who would like to read it. If you want more than the first paragraph as a teaser, my query is posted as a link up at the top of this page. If it sounds like your kind of thing, please let me know in the comments.

I'm only looking for input about whether or not the story holds up, if the characters are believable and likeable, or if you like the story. I am not looking for editors. Basically, if you can read it for pleasure (and confirm whether or not the experience was actually pleasurable), you're the right person for this job. Any takers? Please fill out the Beta Reader Application Form by leaving a comment below!

Enjoy the Blogginess of the Blogfest!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Camp Backlash, and catching up on the Blogfest

Howdy! First of all, I'm relieved to be home. Camp is always fun, but it has its down side. The new definition of "cankles" is "Camp Ankles", if that helps clarify. I twisted my right ankle the first night at camp. That's what I get for going out without a flashlight. Midweek, I had the crazy desire to tweet a photo of just how dark camp is, but it would be silly to tweet a black rectangle.

Just when I thought the right ankle was healing up, I whacked my left ankle with a kayak. That's what I get for trying to load kayaks onto a trailer by myself. Lesson learned.

We (the adults at camp) start out the week with high hopes and a boatload of work to do. We want the campers and PA's (Program Aides, the Girl Scouts equivalent of Camp Counselors) to have the best experience possible. We have the best of intentions, and a boatload of coffee to get us through the week. By Wednesday, we're running on fumes and in need of a break.

Wednesday is also the night that the campers in grades 3-6 get to spend the night. The week-long staff and PA's get the night off, and our replacement shift comes in to cook, run the activities for the overnight, and clean up. We get to chill. Or roast. We had a campfire and made smores.

Thursday morning is when my gasket actually blew out, and I was sent away for therapeutic reasons. I was seriously on the verge of psychosis, and had to get away. Luckily, the camp is very close to some great National Park and State Park facilities. I decided to head over to Cunningham Falls State Park. Either swimming in the lake or hiking to the falls sounded perfect. I chose hiking, since I'd still end up somewhere watery, and could swim later if I felt like it.

I drove over, looked longingly toward the Catoctin Mountain National Park on the other side of the road, and stuck to my guns. I wanted to see waterfalls, darn it. I parked, and had to make another choice. There were two routes to the falls, the cliff trail and the low trail. I chose cliff. It sounded kinda dramatic, no?

I had to stop about two minutes into my climb. Yes, climb. The Cliff Trail lived up to its name. It was steep. I kept going, and was rewarded. The other side of the mountain (read: hill to those of you who think we don't have mountains in the East) was a precipitous winding trail that mountain goats can appreciate. Even with my sprained ankle, I ran the whole way down, leaping from rock to rock. It was AWESOME!

I found the falls, splashed in the creek below, and then hiked off trail up the hill a ways to find a quiet spot to sit and read for a few hours. I was rewarded with this:

Behind my backpack there was a perfect lounge chair carved from rock, in sight of the falls. All I could hear was falling water and birdie twitterings. I sat there for about two hours, and then hiked back out.

The view from my seat in the woods. The falls are around that little hill to the left.
 The best part of this trip, my water shoes no longer smelled like the stinky lake where we kayak at camp. Their stink-free state lasted for about an hour, until I ran the afternoon kayaking sessions. I have to hose them out again. Ick.

Other random weirdness from camp:

1. The theme at camp was "Best of the West." We were supposed to be learning about frontier life and what it was like to be a cowboy. Somehow, a character was invented who took over the camp. The girls created "Bad Bart" or "Black Bart" or "Bad Black Bart" depending on who you asked. He and his gang tried to sneak into camp and steal our gold. Boy, would they be surprised to learn all our "gold" was actually fish tank gravel coated with metallic spray paint. We should have let him have it and been done with it.

We built a wagon, and the camp director painted it. After it rained, she painted it again! And we had horsies!

It was fun chasing Bad Bart all over camp, but we've never had so many skinned knees and twisted ankles .

2. We get silly when we're sleep deprived. One other adult enlightened us as to the definition of "weenus," which is the stretchy skin on your elbow. We spent a good hour thinking of ways to work it into conversation with our husbands when we got home. "Dear, we can see your weenus." "It looks like your weenus is sunburned." "I saw Bad Bart run through camp, his weenus swinging in the breeze." This was all highly entertaining Thursday evening.

3. Thursday night is PA movie night. We took the girls up to the theaters in Gettysburg, and they had their choice of three films. Lulu and I went to see Brave. I was really glad I brought my scarf to use as a blanket. The theater was really cold. I didn't need it to wipe my eyes. Much. Oh, ok. I wept. Sue me.

4. A man who lived nearby brought a kitten to camp. He caught some strays and was trying to find good homes for them. I still have his phone number. The kitten was cute. Should I call him back? Do I need another kitty?

5. I found a tree that had mitten-shaped leaves:

I think that's about it. The highlights of a very long, but immensely fun week. I intended to post this last night, and to interview the next person on the Blogfest list (Gwen Gardner), but I crashed and burned. I slept for 14 hours straight. I'm here again. I'll post new interviews by tomorrow.

I certainly got some reading done at camp, but I didn't do one lick of writing. I even brought the laptop along, but I never even opened it. Not once. I've been rewarded with an idea for a new YA novel. I'm abandoning book 3 of my current series to tackle the wilds of YA. Book 3 isn't as urgent in my brain at the moment, so I'm itching to start something new. And the New Thing has a lot of promise. And it makes me tingly to think about! :)

Thanks, and Ahoy!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Why, oh, why? Buccaneer Blogfest!

It's the second installment in the Buccaneer Blogfest, in which we are instructed to explain why we started blogging.

I originally started a blog over on LiveJournal to keep a personal record of interesting things that happened to me. I never really thought about keeping a blog for any sort of professional reason, until I started writing seriously. Then I switched to Blogger and started using it to keep track of my writing several times a week. Long ago, I never thought anyone (other than maybe my husband) would ever want to read my posts.

The more I got involved in the writing community online, the more the blog here evolved. I've met some fascinating people, writers and readers alike. Which is exactly why I signed up for this Blogfest!

So I heartily apologize for the lack of reciprocation thus far. I come home from camp tomorrow night, back to the world of WiFi and air conditioning. I can't wait to get back and catch up on the thirty seven berjillion emails I'm sure I needed to reply to yesterday. *Sigh*

No, I'm really excited to get home and catch up on all the other Buccaneers on this Blogfest. I promise to improve on my postings next week, when I'm back in Civilization.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Aar, Mateys...Ahoy!

I signed up for the Buccaneer Blogfest and then realized I'd be at camp for the first week of posts. So here I am writing my first post days before it will go live. I didn't want to slack off before the ship even left port!

The first post is supposed to be about me. Well, I've written a lot of stuff about me. It's one of my favorite topics. Well, no, not really, but it's the subject I know the most about, so I tend to default to writing about myself on this blog. If you want an intro to me, please read the About Me and FAQ sections. There's a lot of stuff there that will explain who I am.

Sorry this post is kind of lacking in detail, but since I'm not here to see if there were more specific instructions or advice for this post, I hope this will cover most anything anyone wants to know.

If you have any questions about me, and are patient enough to wait until the weekend to get answers, please feel free to ask. I like answering questions! Hey, Jeopardy! champ here! Then again, I suppose that means I prefer questioning answers, rather than answering questions. I'll try to phrase my replies in the form of a question.

Thanks for playing!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

I'm going off the grid. I hope I come back...

For the next six days, I'll be somewhere in the wilderness. Camp. It's always fun, but if nothing's changed since last year, that also means I'll be COMPLETELY DISCONNECTED FROM THE INTERNET! *feel free to panic on my behalf*

There's one spot at the camp, out back between the kitchen and the dumpster, where I can get phone messages if I stand on one leg, point my left hand due North-Northwest, and recite the alphabet backward in a Cookie Monster voice. Unless the Cellular Deities have bestowed new towers in the wilderness of the Catoctins, I'm afraid this will be the extent of my connectivity. One night we're planning to take the girls into Civilization to see a movie, so I might have a technology reprieve midweek. We'll have to wait and see.

In the mean time, I hope y'all enjoy the Internets without me. I'm going to have to figure out this newfangled thing called a "book." It's made of paper, but it's full of words! Just like the Internets! Unfortunately, I think I got a defective book, because there's no photos of cats doing funny things, or GIF's of Doctor Who, and no clicky-links! Gah!

Morgan: Defender of the Camp Shirts
Lulu is a counselor this year at camp. Her camp name is Bumblebee. There will be a hundred girls who won't ever think of her as Lulu, but for the rest of their lives will call her Bumblebee. She is okay with this. The camp already had a Darth Vader and a Voldemort, so Bumblebee was about the best name she could get. I leave you with The Bemittened One keeping her new t-shirts warm.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

My New Favorite Character Shopping Mall

As a writer, I pick up interesting details about people see in daily life and later find them showing up in characters I make up. It's probably a common problem with writers.I don't really see it as a problem. It's more of an interesting quirk I've noticed about myself when I create a new character. I pull details from nowhere, and later on during edits I'll realize those details actually came from somewhere specific in real life.

I finally had a conscious moment of character shopping the other day. It was the first time I ever thought about characters while I was just sitting there observing people. Then again, I didn't really have much else to do at the moment.

Lulu is flying by herself in a little more than a week, and I wanted to make sure she had a proper ID card. This is the first time she'll be going through airport security without me. Even though United swears up and down she doesn't need an ID card since she's still under sixteen, it would suck rabid donkeys if they didn't allow her to fly because of it. With my luck, she'd be stuck in an airport somewhere with no way to get home.

I took her to the MVA (for those of you who don't live in Maryland, that translates to the DMV) and we waited. And waited. In the middle of all that waiting, I started noticing the interesting folks around me. I came to a startling conclusion.

When people go to get their driver's license, they do everything in their power to ensure the picture does not suck.

Despite the fact that the little picture on a license doesn't show more than the collar of the shirt you wear, I saw people dressed to the nines from head to foot. Not only did a lot of people dress nicely, they seemed to distill the essence of their personality and sense of style into a single outfit. And don't misunderstand. Not everyone looked like they were dressed to go to a wedding. For some people, dressing to the nines means something very different.

There was tattooed-arm-lady, who wore a revealing set of layered tank tops to show off her artwork to best effect. Her matching purple and black hair was coiffed to perfection. There was the guy who looked like he worked for a Colombian drug cartel back in the 80's, with his shiny alligator boots, silver belt buckle and matching necklace, and slicked-back hair. There was a teenaged girl who clearly was getting her first license ever. I think her mom took her to the hair salon before coming by for the picture.

Granted, not everyone put that much care into how they'd look on a piece of plastic they have to carry with them for the next five years. There was also the small group of folks who barely managed to dress themselves at all. There was one older gentleman who looked like he interrupted his busy day repairing a tractor to pop over and renew his license. Not everyone gives a damn. And you know what? They're great characters, too.

I had to restrain myself from taking pictures of a lot of these folks. I think the state government would frown on me loitering in one of their waiting rooms taking covert photos. Yeah. That could have consequences...

This rambling story does have a moral. Next time I'm having trouble inventing people for my stories, I'm going to pack a lunchbox and head over to the MVA.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Serious Character Research. Ahem.

I've been inspired to do some serious research into my characters today. Well, yes. It is serious. I know, I know. It's so hard to keep looking at all these beautiful people, but somehow I've managed to muddle through... And I thought I should share some of the success stories I found.

I found some good visual references for some of my main characters. Some of them improved with suggestions from the peanut gallery. If you have anyone you'd like to nominate for consideration, please let me know. I'm open to more of this sort of research! :)

Thalia Drake, the dragon masquerading as a werewolf. Born in Ancient Greece, I originally pictured her more like statues of Artemis than like a modern-day human being. But then I saw this:

Tonia Sotiropoulou
Just give her grass-green dragon eyes, and you've got it.

Now on to Mal. Oh, how did I ever survive this research! Mario Lekkas, who is now Mal in my head... and yes, he merits at least two pictures. Shut up.

And how about Henry, the mild-mannered guy with the eyes of a predator:

And Ellen, sweet and innocent on first meeting, but she's persuasive and powerful.
I could do this kind of research all day, but for some reason, my family expects to be served dinner. I guess they don't understand how difficult this has been for me today. *Sigh*

Characters I still intend to find faces in the real world for: Donna, Allen, Wil, Kerry, Hannah...and probably a few more, too. :)

Right now, I have to go make food. Enjoy! :)

***DISCLAIMER: I removed most the photos from this blog entry because I don't want to get sued. It's sad that fair use doesn't include properly attributed photos used in a positive way. But it doesn't. The only photo I left is from Wikipedia Commons, which I am pretty sure is public domain. Crossing my fingers.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Ow, in every sense of the word.

Getting ready for camp week next week, I've been running around like a headless chicken trying to get everything done at home. On top of the pile of other stuff I have to get done, I have to get my yard in shape for the community association. Apparently, Jungle Chic isn't a real thing.

This is my front yard, after filling two yard clippings bags full of vines, overgrown things, and prickly branches. I feel like a pincushion, and I'm still finding thorns embedded in my fingers and arms. It looks better now than it did when I started, but I was too exhausted to take an after picture.

The worst thing I did, though, was accidentally chop through a huge vine of raspberries. I felt like crying. I memorialize the berries here so I'll remember to be more careful tomorrow night when I go out again to try an finish up.

And yes, I have to work at night, because it's too hot to work under the full sun. I'd burn and melt all at the same time. I came in and took the first enjoyable cold shower of the summer.

So I'm completely worn out now. I'm itchy, sore, and scratched up. I'm just going to sit here the rest of the night and watch cooking shows on tv. It's all I have the energy for.

In better news, camp preparations are coming along nicely. I think I can get everything else I need in one quick trip, but I'll have to plan in advance. I keep forgetting things, and I really don't want to multiple trips for things I should have remembered to buy in the first place.

I ordered myself a new life jacket, because I detest the ones the camp provides. I'm also kind of ashamed that as the certified canoe and kayak instructor who has to teach water safety that I never owned a life jacket before. Do as I say, not as I do. Yeah, right. I swim like a fish and can tread water for hours, so I can't imagine a situation where I'd need a life jacket, but it is the smart thing to do...

I'm plowing my way through Running Down the Dragon while I recover in the comfy chair. I've said it before, but I swear, this time it's true. I actually like the story now. I mean, I really like it. I always liked it, of course, since I wrote it. It would be silly to think I wrote a story I didn't like. But writing a novel is an evolving love-hate relationship with your own words. One day you love it, the next you want to burn it. The very next day, you might love it again. Well, today is a Love Day for me and the Dragon. It's always easier to edit when you feel the manuscript love. So on that note, I'll get back to work.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

New Writing/Editing Achievement Unlocked

For those who don't already know, I've finally been working with a GEN-YOU-WINE crit partner who is overflowing with remarkably spot-on advice. It has been an eye-opening journey from what I mistakenly believed was a well-edited manuscript to what is rapidly becoming an actually-well-edited manuscript.

BUT HOLD YOUR HORSES, PEOPLE! It took a while, but I finally unlocked the most awesome writing achievement that has hit me so far. Chapter 22 is my new "favorite thing I ever wrote." No, I don't think it's the most crucial bit of dialogue, or the most evocative of character development, or even the most moving, or savvy, or intellectual. It is, however, the first chapter we sailed straight through without making a single change.

It's probably not perfect. For all I know, it's the chapter that will receive the most slashy red markings from a future editor. But for one glorious moment, I held my head high. I wrote something that my excellent and insightful crit partner left intact.

She pointed out to me that as we go along, we become better at writing. And yes, the farther into the book we get, the fewer corrections there have been overall. But this, a whole chapter that could stand as-is, made my day.

Achievement Unlocked!

Love and chocolates for everyone! I'm dancing through my day today. Feel free to picture that in whatever way makes you laugh hardest.

And a happy Sunday, and Happy Canada Day, eh? For me, it's Happy Chapter 22 Day!